From the December issue of The Parish Visitor:
A View From the Pulpit
Rev. John Collins
As thanksgiving draws near, this passage from Deuteronomy 26 comes to mind:
1When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. 3You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God, 5you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, 7we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. 11Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.
The above passage from Deuteronomy is found in the middle of the law of Moses given to the people of Israel just before they entered into the land that God had promised their ancestor Jacob (the wandering Aramean) and his ancestor Abraham. The people of Israel were instructed to offer back to God the first portion of the harvest along with the above recitation of all that God had done for them to fulfill the promise.
This recitation and the accompanying offering of thanksgiving had a purpose; to remind the people that they had not brought themselves up out of Egypt, that the land they possessed was a gift of the Lord and not the result of skill, intelligence, cunning, or even hard work. Remembering that the land, the source of all that was good in their lives (milk and honey) was a free gift and not the result of hard work or intrinsic merit was essential. It was crucial that they not forget who and whose they were, it was critical to their integrity that they remember that they were not self-sufficient, but were instead dependent upon the continuing mercies of God.
It was vital that they remember that they had not earned the land, but instead received it as a gift, so that they would not forget that the land was to be utilized in a manner congruent with God’s will, not done with as they pleased. God’s will was that they provide for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. God’s will was justice, both legal and economic, for all people. God’s will was not easy, it was not, and is not, the default setting of humanity. God’s will could only be done by a people who remembered and gave thanks for all God had done and was doing for them.
We do not live in the promised land and we no longer offer the first fruits of the land to God while reciting a historical summary that mentions a wandering Aramean, but we do need to remember and give thanks to God for all that is good in our lives in order that we not stumble into unfaithfulness. I encourage you to take some time in the coming week to do just that.